Maricopa County must watch video before charging felonies

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel speaks at a news conference in Phoenix on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. Jacques Billeaud / AP

Maricopa County prosecutors looking to charge people with felonies must first review video evidence if it is available.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s office has changed its policies on prosecuting potential felons, saying the office may not levy a charge if it knows video evidence exists and doesn’t review it. 

The change, which Adel’s office announced last week, is effective immediately.

“Video evidence, which may include evidence like officer body-worn camera video, surveillance video, or cell phone videos, can be the single most important piece of evidence in a case when it captures the crime being committed or it is the basis for the identification of the person who committed the crime,” Adel said in a statement. “This new policy ensures that prosecutors review the most relevant portions of any video evidence as early in the case as possible.”

The office can make exceptions if a conviction is likely based on available evidence, the suspect is a danger to the community or there’s a sufficient level of evidence corroborating the felony.

The county prosecutor has advocated for universal body-worn cameras for law enforcement throughout the state since taking office.

Though Adel said the change has been in the works for some time, it comes as the office faces a class-action lawsuit from Black Lives Matter protesters who were prosecuted as gang members in 2020. A lawsuit filed in July claims Adel’s office fraudulently charged the protesters with various crimes. Charges in 39 cases since have been dropped.

Others have called for Adel to resign or take a medical leave after she announced in August she’s suffering from alcohol addiction related to severe anxiety.

By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square